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Why Darmok Is a Good Star Trek: TNG Episode 512

An anonymous reader writes: "Last week, the Ars Technica ran an article listing their staff's least favorite Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes. They hit a few of the predictable ones, like Angel One — wherein Riker's chest hair takes center stage — and Up the Long Ladder — featuring space-Irish. But a surprising suggestion came from Peter Bright, who denounced Darmok, a fan favorite. (You remember: 'Darmok and Jalad, at Tanagra.') Now, Ars's Lee Hutchinson has (jokingly) taken Bright to task, showing how IMDB ratings mark Darmok (5x02) as one of the best episodes of season 5, and among the strongest in the series. He also points out a trend in some of the bad episodes they didn't pick: 'According to the data, the worst episode of TNG by a significant margin is the season 2 finale Shades of Gray, a clipshow episode famously hobbled by the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. We also managed to not pick season 6's Man of the People (the one where Troi falls in love with a brain vampire and gets really old) or season 4's The Loss (the one where Troi loses her empathic abilities and gets really whiny) or season 2's The Child (the one where Troi has dream sex with a space anomaly and gets really pregnant).' What are your picks for best and worst TNG episode?"
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Why Darmok Is a Good Star Trek: TNG Episode

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  • The Inner Light (Score:5, Insightful)

    by poity ( 465672 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @06:00PM (#46611697)

    manly tears

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @06:05PM (#46611723) Homepage

    Ya, maybe the episode would not of sucked so bad if their made up language, that was "completely different to all other languages" was not just a pile of bull.

    Oh, you mean we could not decode the language because every word was just an arbitrary sequence of sounds denoting an idea, instead of how normal words work?

  • by TheGavster ( 774657 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @06:10PM (#46611745) Homepage

    I think you missed the point ... the language was formed out of references to a common body of knowledge. The universal translator was doing just fine figuring out what the individual words meant, but without the common story to refer to they made to sense. It's essentially as if an entire culture communicated only in pop culture references. For example, someone might say "You're such a Samantha", but if you haven't watched many hours of Sex and the City, you would have no idea what they meant despite knowing all of those words.

  • by adric22 ( 413850 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @06:39PM (#46611907) Homepage

    As somebody who studies language - I agree. You can't make analogies in the first place without a functional language. And if you have a functional language, why make up analogies? And seriously, how can the communicate complex ideas? Can you imagine them trying to write a book explaining microprocessor design?

  • Re:best / worst? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @06:57PM (#46612013) Homepage Journal

    The Drum Head is highly underrated, and just as relevant as ever.

  • Darmok is Awful (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @07:41PM (#46612199) Homepage

    I agree, Darmok is probably the single-worst of all Star Trek episodes. Coincidentally, it came on TV last week in a hotel room I was staying at and I started swearing up and down at it to my girlfriend.

    The central thesis is totally incoherent: all language is based on referents, and if the universal translator can't work on that, then it can't work on anything else, either. Or on the other hand, the alien race would have no way of expressing the legends to which they're referring to each other in the first place (no language can just be proper nouns). The main problem is that it's a Star Trek episode that wants to be actual hard science fiction (and not just space opera) -- the prospect of which excites fans, but scratch the surface and the premise actually is insulting, obviously stupid.

  • Avoidance language (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @08:44PM (#46612465) Homepage Journal

    And if you have a functional language, why make up analogies?

    I haven't seen the episode, but it's possible to have a taboo against using direct language in public. Plenty of indigenous cultures have "avoidance languages" used to communicate with in-laws. Tamarian could just have a rule to speak in analogies within strangers' earshot.

  • One of the things that made Picard such a memorable character is that, once or twice a season, he would break out of the British Sea captain shell and reveal the character beneath, particularly the flaws and weaknesses.

    In this regard, some of the best Picard Episodes are, to obviously begin with

    - Chain of Command II (There are Four Lights!)
    - Family (Picard reveals how much his Bord capture affected him)
    - Tapestry (Reveals Picard's stabbing and its effect on his life)

    However, I find one of the most striking aspects of Picard's character is revealed while he is offscreen, by Worf, in an otherwise fairly corny 5th season episode called "The Perfect Mate".

    PAR LENOR: Perhaps your captain would care to invite us to join him for dinner this evening...

    WORF: The captain dines alone.

    It's almost a throwaway line, but manages to crystalise a lot about Picard's behaviour and relationships with the rest of the crew. He's never too close to any of them, or anyone, personally, but instead lives and relates to people through his leadership role as Captain, an effectively Father figure to the crew. There's a pay-off made on this during the last Episode (All Good Things - II) where Picard finally joins one of the poker games.

    However, I think that the single best Picard moment related to this is his wordless reaction on hearing of Ensign Ro's defection, at the very end of the penultimate episode (Preemptive Strike). Ro betrays Star Fleet for personal, patriotic, emotional reasons, and does so precisely because Picard professionally pushed her into an undercover mission.

    Here Picard finally tastes the bitter pill of consequence that he's been dishing out to aliens and miscreants for seven seasons, as his adoptive officer-daughter Ro finally makes her personal, matured, self-determined choice to not live the rest of her life in his perfect Star Fleet family, or by his cherished Federation rules. And after being betrayed by someone he trusted, for reasons he understands but cannot accept, Picard's livid silence makes for a deliciously dramatic conclusion. A crowning moment, no doubt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @10:30PM (#46612853)
    DS9 had too many annoying Bajoran and prophet based episodes and the series didn't get interesting until the 4th season.
  • by laird ( 2705 ) <lairdp@GAUSSgmail.com minus math_god> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @10:41PM (#46612891) Journal

    I disagree. The point is that the words mean different things depending on what they're a reference to. So "Samantha" does not mean "bitch" in the way that words in normal languages have meanings, because the same word could mean something utterly different depending on the context. Since I didn't watch that show, I can't come up with examples (which kinda supports my point). But let's use Star Trek for examples: "Picard at Farpoint" and "Picard when he saw four lights" and "Picard after the Borg" and "Picard smiling at Lwaxana" and "Picard and Ro" mean utterly different things, because of the context of those stories that gives meaning unrelated to the actual words. So it's impossible to make sense of the word "Picard" without knowing the stories, because there are hundreds of stories that the translator would need to infer. And if the references weren't phrased literally the same way every time, but were more natural references to the stories, then even the phrases would be impossible to decode.

    Of course, the universal translator deals with simpler versions of this every week. The premise is that the translator can deal with simpler symbolic translation of words from direct context, but can't deal with the deeper metaphore-based communications. For a popular mass media show, that's a pretty subtle idea. If you're going to quibble about that, you shouldn't bother watching anything on TV - none of it stands up to really deep digging, because they're trying to tell entertaining stories to normal people in 44 minutes (or 22 minutes), not publish defensible scientific thesis. :-)

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @11:10PM (#46612957) Homepage Journal

    ... all of them? Seriously the inclusion of a trained Shakespearian actor (Stewart) was the only saving grace of that branch-off of TOS.

    come on... it's not like the series didn't have any redeeming qualities at all... is it?

    I can think of one really good episode. It involved the captain getting his brain rewired and living an entire lifetime on another planed in a dream induced by an alien probe. Why was it good? Because it focused on one character (played by Patrick Stewart) and really developed him.

    The one with Picard leading the kids up the lift shaft was also good.

    And I enjoyed the whole "Sometimes a cake is just a cake" episode. I mean, it was absurd, but it was amusing.

    Worst episode? Anything with Wesley Crusher. They were almost all painfully written. How many times can a single kid put everybody in mortal danger and then somehow manage to save the day in some contrived fashion?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @11:30PM (#46613019)
    I idiots who write shit like this. Stop with the fucking links for every word in a sentence. You are not hip, cool, or witty.
  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @11:58PM (#46613095) Homepage Journal

    Isn't it great that when asked a question, in answering that question honestly, you can be modded down? ...this is why I surf slashdot at -1. Junk moderation is rampant.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351